There’s no formula for choosing the books of the year. Some break ground, some tackle familiar themes with new energy. Some represent the best work from established authors, some introduce us to important new voices. And some are simply in-house favourites we feel deserve a little more attention. Here are the Fiction and Poetry books that made the most impact in 2010.
Emma Donoghue (HarperCollins Canada)
Emma Donoghue is known primarily for her richly detailed historical fiction (Slammerkin, The Sealed Letter) and stories exploring lesbian relationships. With her seventh novel, the Irish-born writer steps out of her comfort zone, and the risk has definitely paid off. A gripping story about a five-year-old boy raised by his captive mother in a cell-like chamber, Room was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award, and the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and it has been one of the most talked-about books of the year. Room is disturbing, thrilling, and emotionally compelling, wrote reviewer Dory Cerny in October’s Q&Q. Donoghue has produced a novel that is sure to stay in the minds of readers for years to come. (See Emma Donoghue profile, p. 20)
Kathleen Winter (House of Anansi Press)
Until recently, Kathleen Winter may have been known among Canada’s literati for her celebrated sibling, Michael (whose The Death of Donna Whalen is also a book of the year). But ever since her 2007 short story collection, boYs, won both the Metcalf-Rooke Award and the Winterset Award, she has begun raking in critical laurels of her own. Her debut novel has pulled off a literary feat, landing on the shortlists for each of the country’s major prizes (the Giller, the GG, and the Writers’ Trust). The story of an intersex child born in a remote hunting community in Labrador, Annabel‘s subtle exploration of one character’s struggle to find his place in a prejudiced world has resonated with readers. Writing in July/August’s Q&Q, reviewer Shawn Syms called Annabel a dramatic, thematically rich novel that delivers a thoughtful treatment of [a] rarely discussed topic.
Beatrice & Virgil
Yann Martel (Knopf Canada)
Nearly 10 years in the making, Yann Martel’s follow-up to the Man Booker Prize“winning Life of Pi divided critics, earning some of the most scathing reviews of the year. But the critical drubbing didn’t turn off Canadian readers, who made Beatrice & Virgil one of the best-selling novels of the year. It also proved that, in today’s risk-averse publishing climate, a book with commercial aspirations “ Martel is rumoured to have scored a $3-million advance “ can still take risks and challenge readers. Beatrice & Virgil is, among other things, a metafictional satire of the publishing industry, a parable about human cruelty and suffering, a meditation on the limits of representation, and a self-reflexive work of fiction that alludes to Beckett, Dante, and Orwell’s Animal Farm. Whether or not it lives up to expectations is for readers to decide, but it deserves to be read, debated, and grappled with.